Oneida Nation: History & Connection to Paul Revere

Instructor: James Moeller
In this lesson, we will discuss the Oneida Nation, member of the Six Nation Confederacy, acknowledged in history as one of the most powerful Indian alliances in America. You'll also learn about the Oneida Tribe's connection with the American Revolution and Paul Revere.

The Beginnings of the Oneida Nation

The people of the Oneida Nation, as did nearly all Native American peoples, migrated from Asia as early as 50,000 years ago. This was possible due to the movement of enormous sheets of ice that displaced large amount of water near what is today the Bering Strait. So much water was displaced that it exposed Beringia, a land bridge that connected Asia with North America.

Because of climatic changes and the loss of vegetation, large herds of animals upon which ancient people relied began to head east over Beringia. Tribes followed these herds into North America - among them the 'Iroquoian' group, which migrated across North America to their new home in what is now upstate New York. By 11,000 BC, these gigantic ice shelves began to melt and covered Beringia, thereby trapping the migrants in their new North American home.

The Alliance of the Six Nations

Once in their new surroundings, the Oneida encountered hostile tribes, among them the Huron, who attacked their villages and towns with regularity. In response, the Oneida people banded together with the Iroquois, a much larger and more powerful tribe. Together with the Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca, & Onondaga (much later, the Tuscarora joined the alliance), they formed what would become one of the most powerful Indian confederacies in America, The Iroquois Confederacy, or more commonly known as The Six Nations.

Flag of the Oneida Nation (NY)

The Oneida & The American Revolution

When the American Colonies were formed between 1607 and 1732, the Six Nations had divided opinions about their new neighbors. When the American Revolutionary War began in 1776, some tribes sided with the British, while others sided with the American colonists.

The Oneida take great pride in calling themselves 'first allies'. Today, Oneida declare that their people have served in every war this nation has fought, up to the present time. The term, 'first allies' denotes the fact that the Oneida Nation was the first to ally itself with the new country. It was mostly through the efforts of Chief Shenandoah that the treaty of alliance was struck. The Chief even earned the name, 'Friend of the Whites'.

The Oneida were indispensable to the Continental Army (the professional army organized by the US Congress at the start of the war) and its state militias. They fought alongside the Americans at the Battles of Oriskany and Saratoga in 1777, the latter being perhaps the most significant battle in the war, as it prompted the French to ally itself later with the Americans. In addition to sending warriors, the Oneida traveled hundreds of miles to feed Washington's starving troops at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Promises, Promises…

When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the Oneida were praised, as evidenced by this message from the US Congress:

'We have experienced your love, strong as the oak, and your fidelity, unchangeable as truth. You have kept fast hold of the ancient covenant-chain, and preserved it free from rust and decay, and bright as silver. Like brave men, for glory you despised danger; you stood forth, in the cause of your friends, and ventured your lives in our battles. While the sun and moon continue to give light to the world, we shall love and respect you. As our trusty friends, we shall protect you; and shall at all times consider your welfare as our own.'

1792 Peace Medal given to the Oneida from George Washington

That's very high praise coming from the US government, don't you think? Reading, this, you would surmise that things would go well for the Oneidas, and for the most part, the US government tried to honor its promises. However, history will show that the State of New York was quite another matter.

In the 1784 Treaty of Ft. Stanwix, the US government guaranteed the Oneidas their tribal lands, but the state of New York chose to ignore the federal government's lead and actively sought to remove all Indians from within its borders so that more white people could move in. This resulted in the loss of much Oneida land. Many Oneidas migrated to Wisconsin Territory, near present day Green Bay, in 1822. Others moved further north to Ontario, Canada. This resulted in three distinct branches of the tribe today, located in New York State, Southwold Ontario, Canada, and in Wisconsin.

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